By Hal McCoy
In the days when Major League teams regularly played doubleheaders, in the days of The Big Red Machine, Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson would use one game to give his extra guys some playing time.
They had a name for themselves: The Shock Troops and F Troop. And utility infielder Darrel Chaney came up with a derogatory name, the T—s, complete with t-shirts.
Because Friday night’s game was rained out, the Reds and Washington Nationals played a doubleheader Saturday and Reds manager Jim Riggleman used some F Troopers against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez for Game 1.
Did it work? Did it ever. Usually Gonzalez eats the Reds for breakfast, like ham and eggs, but in the first game Saturday afternoon the Reds made him their main course.
And it was seldom-used starters like Phillip Ervin and Brandon Dixon who did the most damage. Those two drove in six of the seven runs — four by Ervin and two by Dixon.
The Reds slammed Gonzalez for six runs and 10 hits in only 3 2/3 innings, helping end Washington’s eight-game winning streak against the Reds, 7-1.
But Riggleman made significant switches for Game 2. He benched right handers Ervin and Dixon, the guys who drove in six runs against left hander Gonzalez. He inserted left handed hitters Mason Williams and preston Tucker to face right handed Jeremy Hellickson. And he moved Joey Votto from his normal three-hole in the batting order to second.
Did it work? Not this time.
Cincinnati starter Matt Harvey did a mini-imitation of Washington’s Gonzalez, giving up five runs and nine hits in four-plus innings and the Reds dropped the nightcap, 6-2, for a split.
In Game One, Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani, buoyed by a 5-1 lead after three innings, pitched seven innings and gave up only one run and six hits. That matched his previous best start of the seven on July 9 — one run over seven innings against the Cleveland Indians.
The first three games of this trip, two losses in Detroit and a loss Thursday to the Nationals, were rough on Ervin. He missed the cutoff man on hits three times and he failed to score from second base on a double to the right field wall by Joey Votto.
But he made up for his foul play on this day.
He singled in the first inning and scored the game’s first run on Dixon’s fielder’s choice ground ball.
In the second, after singles by pitcher DeSclafani and Jose Peraza, Ervin launched a 427-foot three-run home run to left field of an 82 miles an hour changeup thrown by Gonzalez.
And the Red built their lead from there. Dixon hit a home run in the third to make it 6-1. Eugenio Suarez drove in a run in the fourth after Jose Peraza doubled for his third hit of the game. Ervin drove in his fourth run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The only damage done against DeSclafani came in the second on a double by teen-aged rookie Juan Soto and a single by Daniel Murphy.
From there the Nationals only threatened DeSclafani once when they put two on with one out in the fourth, but Murphy hit into an inning-ending double play.
DeSclafani stayed out of trouble by stifling the top three Nationals batters — Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon — to 1 for 9.
In Game Two, Cincinnati’s Jose Peraza hit the second pitch of the game into the Reds bullpen in left field for a home run and a quick 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last long. Harvey gave up a run in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth. When Matt Adams, the first batter in the fifth, hit a home run Harvey’s night was done — four innings plus one hitter, five runs, nine hits. While DeSclafani held the first three Nats hitters to 1 for 9, the first three went 5 for 13 against Harvey.
As soon as Adams connected, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said something to home plate umpire Andy Fletcher and was ejected before the ball landed in the right field seats. Barnhart apparently was upset with a ball call on the previous pitch that put the count a 2-and-0 instead of 1-and-1.
The second run off Hellickson also was a home run, the 26th of the year by Eugenio Suarez in the fourth that cut Washington’s lead to 3-2, but Harvey couldn’t keep it there.
Reds relief pitcher Jesus Reyes made his major league debut in the seventh inning and hit the first batter he faced. But then he got a double play and a fly ball to record a scoreless, hitless inning. He was even better in the eighth — 1-2-3.
And there was some extra-curricular activity. Austin Brice hit Washington star Bryce Harper with a pitch on the knee, knocking him out of the game. When Joey Votto came to bat with two outs in the eighth, Washington pitcher Ryan Madson drilled Votto on the knee.
Votto jawed at Madson while he was on base and when the inning ended he made wild-armed gestures, some apparently aimed at his own dugout, but nothing ensued.